Horse Hygiene and Nutrition


Awareness about the role of diet in human fitness and wellness has grown by leaps and bounds, but unfortunately this is generally not the case in horse racing circles.

Owners may splurge on luxurious and showy accessories for their thoroughbreds, but bite their lips in hesitation when the veterinarian suggests a better feed plan. This should not be taken as a sweeping indictment of all horse racing stakeholders, but there is certainly a case for better appreciation of the hygiene and balance aspects of nutrition for champion race horses. Race horses are just like sports people in their dependence on all the major and trace elements in their diets for peak performance and for balanced development.

“Grass is grass”, could be a common refrain that seems entirely reasonable at first thought. Yet, the nutritional value and cleanliness of humble green cuttings can make a world of difference between a healthy animal and one beset with deficiencies and intestinal infections. The role of proper and clean feed is under-rated in many horse racing circles. The pressures of events and declarations can serve to divert attention from the basics of proper diet for the animals on which so many hopes and expectations rest.

Diet management starts with the source of grass. Cuttings from wild vegetation may contain parts of weeds which contain substances toxic for equestrian digestion. It is not unlike eating wild mushrooms without proper identification and processing-a horse may take severely ill because of being fed contaminated grass. A nutritious variety of grass, on the other hand, properly cultivated and harvested, can help to build champions.

The method of storage may encourage the growth of pathogens. Fungal attack is likely in wet grass, and can produce harmful chemicals which will detract from the overall health of a horse on a chronic basis. Many microbes find the horse gut to be a favorable environment for growth, and eradication can be a major task. It tends to interfere seriously with race performance. Grass should be treated with heat and kept dry before being fed to horses.

Veterinarians can plan diets that are balanced, helping to build strong bones and durable muscles in animals. However, supplements and all the care that grooms provide, have little meaning if the source of grass is unreliable and of dubious quality. The size of cuttings and rate of ingestion are other important factors that influence digestion and bio-availability of nutrients. Dedicated grooms, under the supervision of expert veterinarians, have key roles to play in the breeding, racing and maintenance of thoroughbreds.

Every horse racing enthusiast cannot match the knowledge and experience of nutrition professionals, but all people with stakes in the sport should know that the quality of feed affects both breeding and race performance. Punters who take the trouble to visit stables in order to follow their favorite horses would be well advised to look in to how grass is procured, stored and presented to the animals. It can matter at least as much as the spaciousness of living quarters and the training facilities.

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